Ellen Mueller

Interview with Deriva Mussol

by Ellen Mueller on September 18, 2023, no comments

a group of people walking at night along a wall

Deriva Mussol “Night Walks” (2013) [page 71]

As part of the run up to the hardcover release of my book, Walking as Artistic Practice (softcover comes out in April!), I’m going to be publishing some brief interviews with the various artists, authors, researchers, creatives, collectives, and platforms whose art practice, written material, or other works I cite and mention.

My fifth interview in this series is with Deriva Mussol (literal translation: Owl Drift), led by Jordi Lafon, Eva Marichalar-Freixa, Montsita Rierola and Sebastià Masramon in collaboration with everyone interested in their proposals. Their long professional record in education and visual and performing arts, brought them to embrace walking practices as a way to explore endless possibilities for creation and learning in contemporary contexts. They enjoy generating actions as well as sharing gathering spaces which are meant to be open, permeable and in motion.

EM: First, thank you for chatting with me about your group, Deriva Mussol and its series of 12 night-walks in 2013. This piece is mentioned in Walking as Artistic Practice chapter ten, “Embodiment,” in the subsection on “Thinking and Perspective taking,” because the walks were used as a way to examine place and public space. How would you describe this work for people who might not be familiar with it?

DM: These walks were thought as an adventurous long-term first dérive. In fact, Deriva Mussol was born out of this first experience. We (Jordi Lafon and Eva Marichalar-Freixa, the founders) had no other goal than setting up some night encounters to stroll together and see what would happen if we did so. There was no other intention. Of course we knew about Débord (Theory of the Dérive) and much more especially about Francesco Careri (Walkscapes), reading their books was the trigger that brought us to experiment in this format. What would happen if we organized a group of people to do some dérives with no other purpose rather than walking, strolling around the city? The group was a group of High Education students who were absolutely not familiar with any of our ideas. We are specifying all this because the walks were not used to examine place and public space, but we embodied the experience that by walking with no other purpose than walking made of place and space (public, city outskirts or countryside) a being of relation, we started perceiving place and space in a completely different manner, our relationship with the places we walked night after night became enhanced as if these places were “other people”. We started experiencing, very much from and embodied experience, that by walking all those relationships we built towards ourselves, the others and the territory grew in a more profound and vivid way. These observations were repeated often during those months of walks. During the walks we came up with a name “Mussol” (owl) after a night where we ended up (as always, unexpectedly) in the home living room of a university teacher colleague we knew who invited us to go in and commenting on her collection of owl figures. Months later, we gathered our conclusions (one of them the new embodied idea of place and space, which we hadn’t taken in consideration at the beginning) and organized a “fictional dérive” as a participative performance of our experience. This experience walk is called “Deriva Mussol”. After the performance, and with an embodied perspective and knowledge of the dérive, we kept going incorporating the name we have been identified with until now. We must add that these first months were the core case of study of an embodied research that Eva wrote for her Masters Degree in Inclusive Education. Also, Eva has written some book chapters or magazine articles for non specialized audiences where she explains the experience throughout the years in Deriva Mussol. Some texts can be found in our website (some in English). Most of them are written in Catalan and Spanish (but google translate everything nowadays), if you wish we can send you some pictures of the texts we have not online.

People not used to this kind of experiences “only” needs to be ready for an adventure. This is like an adventurous journey where you decide a territory to start with, pack your things, forget about obligations and be ready to be happy with and explore what you find along the way. Presence is the key and a playful mindset willing to spend time following impulses and unexpected encounters and observations and thoughts!

EM: What are your most recent thoughts on walking as artistic practice?

DM: The most challenging part of our 12 years of experience has been sticking to the idea that “walking is enough”. We don’t walk in order to “dynamize groups”, “analyse settings” or any other “use” that walking can be good for, we walk because walking is enough. We say it this way because by walking you clearly get some results as enhancing group dynamics, embodying research, collecting data, analysing territory… we don’t say we don’t do all of this because by walking, no matter if you are searching for it or not, YOU ARE GOING TO HAVE THESE RESULTS. Let’s say it more clearly: we are saying that, for us, the most interesting thing is that walking leads inherently the foundational aesthetics of the phenomena of humanistics (learning, creating, researching, inquiring, thinking, exploring, connecting) and that being convinced of that, we have chosen to focus on walking itself knowing that all of that will emerge at its own path and rhythm. We are not interested in “using” walking as a tool even though we know it is very powerful as a tool and we ourselves can use it in our respective professional practices and also as Deriva mussol if someone requires or asks us too. But, as we say and as we would like to insist: walking is enough in itself, walking with the only aim of walking, insisting on the idea of the action of walking. The most simple thing has become within the years the most challenging, as it is very easy to fall into adding stuff or adding actions and performances to our walks. We insist on the idea that we don’t need to do anything other than walking (if it happens, ok, if it is necessary, ok, but walking does not need any other thing to justify its action).

This idea is very difficult to explain by writing rather quickly! 🙂

EM: Can you tell us about any recent or upcoming projects you are excited about?

DM: Recent projects that we are excited about are:

  • https://derivamussol.net/aiguabarreig/ (a morning city stroll for teenagers in a city summer camp)
  • https://derivamussol.net/175-2/ (a walk to celebrate the 175 anniversary of a cultural institution in our city by re-planting seeds of a flowers that has almost disappeared in ours fileds and was very popular and essencial for bees)
  • https://derivamussol.net/romandre-a-tres-espais/ (exploring the idea of “just being in a place”, we visited three places that had appeared in our strolls throughout these years and met with some of the people we had met there years ago to reflect of the place after thgese years – the walk was organized for the city council who was doing some new action in a neighbourhood we had visited often by walking it)

Also, we are very proud of and happy with our experiences of walking and dérive in educational settings. Jordi Lafon was walking with a group of secondary school students for a whole school year (he did this weekly and published a wonderful booklet of the experience along with the students that participated in it), and Eva Marichalar-Freixa, who also is a secondary school teacher, has introduced full morning strolls and walks in the school curriculum of the school! That means that every Friday, the students of Secondary School meet their tutor to spend the morning exploring and learning outdoors. Eva has been doing this for three years now and will in the future publish this experience along with her studies and experiences in the practice of walking and dérive as a learning methodology applied in a school environment.

Interview with Phil Smith

by Ellen Mueller on September 11, 2023, no comments

one person laying down and another standing within a circle drawn on the ground

Crab & Bee, “Webs, Nets and Carrier Bags,” experimental diagrammatical performance

As part of the run up to the hardcover release of my book, Walking as Artistic Practice (softcover comes out in April!), I’m going to be publishing some brief interviews with the various artists, authors, researchers, creatives, collectives, and platforms whose art practice, written material, or other works I cite and mention.

My fourth interview in this series is with Phil Smith, who is a writer, researcher and performer specialising in mythogeographies. With visual artist Helen Billinghurst he is a member of Crab & Bee. He is an Associate Professor (Reader) at the University of Plymouth.

EM: First, thank you for chatting with me about your work and writing, which I mention multiple times in the book. Here, I’d like to specifically focus on a mention of the concept of falling from your jointly authored book with Alyson Hallet, Walking Stumbling Limping Falling (2017), which I cite in chapter ten (Embodiment) in the subsection on “Falling.” How would you describe this text for people who might not be familiar with it?

PS: a dialogue which was a result of two walking artists discovering they were unable to walk – one due to a bad hip requiring surgery, the other due to a mysterious debilitating illness; and so rather than a planned series of walking experiments, we conducted a conversation around our very limited movements before recovery, musing on these temporary moderations of our wanderings and of other minor interruptions, falls, and so forth, and how they had affected our work and art.

EM: I know you have a lot of them, but I wonder what some of your most recent thoughts are on walking as artistic practice?

PS: that it is now so diverse that it no longer constitutes ‘a thing’ in a way that it probably did 20 years ago; if I detected anything coherent from the gathering at the 2019 ‘Walking’s New Movements’ conference in Plymouth it was that many walking artists’ were turning their attention to unhuman others.

EM: Can you tell us about any recent or upcoming projects you are excited about?

PS: I am conducting research in two areas: diagrammatical performances and eco-gothic fictions; I am in the early stages of the research, but hope to publish some findings towards the end of 2024; in the mean time I have published some provisional fictions:    https://www.triarchypress.net/silversnake.html

Interview with John Schuerman

by Ellen Mueller on September 4, 2023, no comments

a drawing and map of the Minneapolis 3rd precinct

John Schuerman, “Precinct Perimeter” (2020)

As part of the run up to the hardcover release of my book, Walking as Artistic Practice (softcover comes out in April!), I’m going to be publishing some brief interviews with the various artists, authors, researchers, creatives, collectives, and platforms whose art practice, written material, or other works I cite and mention.

My third interview in this series is with John Schuerman, who is a self-taught artist and independent curator. His aesthetic style and social consciousness formed as he grew up on a dairy farm in southern Wisconsin. He is an environmental, and documentary artist, exploring the physical, social, and psychic landscapes through drawing, video, photography, and walking-based art forms. His curatorial projects engage viewers on today’s most pressing issues: empathy, human overpopulation, gun violence, money, time, nationalism, identity, conflict, environmentalism, and abuses of power.

EM: First, thank you for chatting with me about your work, Precinct Perimeter (2020). I cite this piece in chapter two (Analyzing Walking Works) in the subsection on “Drawing and Painting.” How would you describe Precinct Perimeter for people who might not be familiar with it?

JS: In the summer of 2020, I was reeling from the murder of George Floyd, the riots and destruction across our city that followed, and my reckoning with America’s violent culture and systemic racism. I live near where Floyd was murdered, and not far from the 3 rd precinct that was destroyed along with most everything else in that vicinity. I walked almost daily as an artist to think, document what I experienced, and to come face to face with things as best I could, and then to examine my thoughts, complicity, activism, limits, etc. On this specific walk, I followed the perimeter of the 3 rd precinct (about 22 miles), I camped halfway around in a former homeless encampment, and filtered water from the lakes and streams –all public sources of water were shut down due to covid. I made the journey in 23 hours, which was just long enough to really feel the exposure of what was happening in our community and in my psyche which was struggling to make sense of things. I documented the experience with words, drawings, photos, maps, etc. often using arsonist ashes in the work.

EM: What are your thoughts on walking as artistic practice?

JS: First, I’d say there are several forms that walking-based art can take –performative, pilgrimage, ‘journalistic witnessing’, Investigative/documentary, etc. I explore all the forms I can think of and try to place myself in the center of things and report on that experience –what is happening in my head intellectually and psychically, and what I’m sensing physically. So, I’m not a distant observer. I am part of what’s happening, and my ‘voice’ comes from within the situation. Regardless of the walk’s form, I formulate questions before, during, and after the walks, but mostly during – and I consider the places I travel as mine, and ours: my/our city, my/our community, my/our mind, my/our Earth. As the artist, of course I choose what gets documented and I can only document that which I notice but my aim is to participate in the collective experience. If I can set it up so that another person could substitute themselves for me in the walk, that is ideal. My walking projects often tap into questions that already exist in the collective mind of our community. For example, gun violence or global warming, or the widening income gap.

EM:  Can you tell us about any recent or upcoming projects you are excited about?

JS: For the past year and a half, I’ve struggled with health issues that prevented me from walking at all, and it has been a very slow climb out of that –so getting back to the physicality of walking even short distances feels great and hopeful. I do have several walking projects in mind that I can’t stop thinking about, and when I’m ready, they will happen. For example, I want to walk the length of the Blue Line train in Minneapolis and document the culture/activity at each stop location. It has quite a range from quiet suburban shopping to areas largely populated by homeless people. I also want to do a walk of ‘ill-repute’, walking to several strip clubs in Minneapolis. These are places I’ve never been and know nothing about really, so it is time to know a little. Lastly, I will be virtually participating in a residency in Sweden this fall, I hope. I’m not well enough for travel, but the Residency hosts have invited me to participate virtually.

NOTE: John and I have a walking talk and workshop coming up Saturday, September 16, 2023 at 2-3pm at Viewpoint Gallery, 591 Hamline Ave N., Saint Paul, MN 55104 [FREE]